« Run Scoring At Home And Abroad | Main | Weekend Photo »

January 10, 2007

Thoughts On The Steroid Era

Today, Ken Rosenthal defended Paul Ladewski’s blank Hall Of Fame ballot:

As for the Ripken and Gwynn snubs, without question, they're difficult to fathom. But I've got no problem with Paul Ladewski of the Daily Southtown in suburban Chicago submitting a blank ballot because of his reluctance to vote for any player from the Steroid Era.

Notice the phrasing. Rosenthal didn’t place Steroid Era in quotes or call it the “so-called Steroid Era.” The appellation is apparently uncontroversial and beyond dispute, no different than, say, the Cretaceous Period. Rosenthal didn’t invent the term, of course. Writers and fans have used it freely for years.

I think such blanket classifications are wonderful. In fact, I would like to contribute to our collective baseball edification by categorizing most of baseball’s history into Eras.

  • 1887-1946: The Racial Purity Era
  • 1946-1978: The Amphetamine Era
    (Except for June 12, 1970, when Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter under the influence of LSD.)
  • 1979-1992: The Cocaine Era
    (Okay, coke use tapered off by the late 80s, but I doubt players were heavy into Ecstasy. Not on the field, anyway.)
  • 1993-2004: The Steroid Era
  • 2005-Present: The Moral Purity Era
As mentioned by Rosenthal in his previous Hall-ballot column, “Voters can’t correct past mistakes.” He’s right, but in all seriousness, why not? The Hall rules weren’t carried down from Mount Sinai on a stone tablet. If the voters are truly adamant about upholding the sanctity of the Hall, amend the rules and cast out the folks who helped institute the “color line” (Cap Anson, A.G. Spalding), commissioned a fabricated history to make baseball “more American” (Spalding again), admitted distributing illegal drugs to teammates (Willie Stargell), or cheated on the field (Gaylord Perry). Then, they’ll have a Hall that befits their sense of righteousness.

I’m not trying to be an apologist for Mark McGwire. He wiggled like a worm in front of Congress. Maybe he drank “cream” and “clear” smoothies for breakfast every morning. But forget maybes. Here are some facts:

  • Mark McGwire admitted to using the steroid androstenedione.
  • McGwire retired after 2001.
  • Major League Baseball had no policy regarding andro or other steroids until 2003. No rules, no testing, no suspensions, no nothing.
  • The United States did not illegalize andro until 2003.

Absent proof of ingestion of other substances, the voters have punished McGwire for legal activity. Paul Ladewski’s blank-ballot assertion is that he can’t determine who used and who didn’t, so everyone’s guilty until proven innocent. That sounds more like cycnicism than a moral stand. I would love to know his voting history, and whether he investigated steroid use during the 1990s, and if he has any record of ferreting out plagiarism and other journalistic malpractices at the Daily Southtown. Also, what prevented him from voting for pre-Steroid Era players like Jim Rice or Alan Trammell, if he felt they were worthy?

Finally , I usually enjoy Rosenthal, but his opener is painful:

First of all, don't rip the eight voters who failed to vote for Cal Ripken and the 13 who failed to vote for Tony Gwynn. It's a free country, last time anyone checked.

You shouldn’t criticize people with whom you disagree because it’s a free country? I didn’t take civics in college, but that sure sounds backwards to me.

Posted by Lucas at January 10, 2007 06:37 PM